Daddy Issues

trauma 1993TRAUMA

3 Stars  1993/18/102m

“Some nightmare haunt you. Some can kill you.”

Director/Writer: Dario Argento / Writers: T.E.D. Klein, Franco Ferrrini & Gianni Romoli / Cast: Asia Argento, Christopher Rydell, Piper Laurie, Frederic Forrest, James Russo, Brad Dourif, Hope Alexander-Willis, Cory Garvin.

Body Count: 11


Disclaimer: Giallo is not a horror sub-genre I’m that familiar with. I spin the more slasher-esque films and generally like them, but don’t get all angry if I don’t fall over myself screaming their praises. I can hear my Italian grandmother rolling in her grave.

The archetypal Argento excesses of gore and sex are somewhat played down in this later venture, a confusing flick shot in Minneapolis and starring his daughter, Asia, as an anorexic teenager named Aura, who escapes from the clinic where she’s being treated and returns home on the night her parents are beheaded by a loon known oh-so-subtley as the Headhunter.

Aura is taken in by TV crewmember David, and together they embark on solving the cases ahead of the cops (a-head of. LOL. LOL. LOLLYMCLOLLOL). The killer – who uses a retracting wire device that nearly squeezes the heads off of his quarry – is after the group of nurses and doctor who are hiding a bad secret. As usual, sexy long-haired women are the chief victims of the killer’s fury and most of the unlucky victims who get in his way are also female.

trauma 1993

The eventual revelation of who it is and why wraps up some of the hanging questions, but Trauma changes its mind several times and doesn’t bother dropping any hints or building of its backstory until it’s absolutely necessary, because the killer is now unmasked and, well, people wanna know, yo.

All the same, Argento’s signature directorial approach is played to the hilt, with flawlessly engaging photography throughout (yeah, that head down the shaft is… well… you’ll see), although why he chooses to shoot his own daughter topless is a curiosity best not speculated upon ’round these parts.

The same highs of Tenebrae and Opera aren’t hit, but definitely an engaging flick and one of the few high-end 90s body count films that came before Scream.

Blurbs-of-interest: Argento’s other slasher-esque films include OperaPhenomena (a.k.a. Creepers), Sleepless, and Tenebrae; Brad Dourif was the voice of Chucky in all Child’s Play films to date, and is also in Chain LetterColor of NightDead ScaredUrban Legend, and both of Rob Zombie’s Halloween movies.

Remember where you came from

mindhunters 2004

MINDHUNTERS

3 Stars  2004/15/102m

“For seven elite profilers, finding a serial killer is a process of elimination. Their own.”

Director: Renny Harlin / Writers: Wayne Kramer & Kevin Brodbin / Cast: Kathryn Morris, LL Cool J [as James Todd Smith], Jonny Lee Miller, Christian Slater, Clifton Collins Jr., Patricia Velasquez, Eion Bailey, Will Kemp, Val Kilmer.

Body Count: 9

Laughter Lines: “Eeny-meeny-miney-mo – who’s the next motherfucker to go?”


Spoilers follow. Senior FBI bod Kilmer wants to sharpen the profiling techniques of a group of his charges, so flies them off to an abandoned island used for military manoeuvres for a weekend, where he has plotted a few tests for them. However, one of their number believes they are a lot smarter than the rest and begins doing them all in with a series of elaborate traps at pre-determined times throughout the day. Can the depleting numbers overcome their paranoia and put their skills to the ultimate test before they become the next casualty?

This comparably high-tech outing thinks way about its station and aspires to rival the likes of Se7en and Kiss the Girls, but cannot escape the trashier prerequisites the stalk n’ slash plot commands in order to sustain itself. Extol the calibre of the cast all you like, but Slater, Kilmer, Miller and the rest are still saddled with rather basic characters, especially Morris’ uninteresting 2D heroine, and the fact they fail to realise they’re in a slasher flick. Thus, it was quite a catastrophic box office failure, failing even to break even.

Despite this notion of thinking it’s better than it is, Mindhunters at least feels like it has a fresh perspective in the days before Saw and its squillion sequels and rip-offs, with over indulgent murder set pieces, talky techno-babble, and the fact that it all collapses into PC-pacifying outcome where we’re forced to choose between the only black guy or the only British guy being the killer. Who d’you think it’s going to be? Mhmm.

Worth a once over.

Blurbs-of-interest: LL Cool J was in Halloween H20; Christian Slater appeared in Hollow Man II and Playback; Renny Harlin directed A Nightmare on Elm Street 4.

Valley of the Cheapjack Franchises: JACK FROST

jack frost 1996

JACK FROST

2.5 Stars  1997/18/86m

“He’s chillin’ …and killin’!”

Director/Writer: Michael Cooney / Writer: Jeremy Paige / Cast: Chris Allport, Scott MacDonald, Stephen Mendel, F. William Parker, Eileen Seeley, Rob LaBelle, Zack Eginton, Jack Lindine, Chip Heller, Brian Leckner, Marsha Clark, Darren Campbell, Shannon Elizabeth Fabal, Kelly Jean Peters, Todd Conner.

Body Count: 12

Laughter Lines: “Do something!” / “Like what – teach him how to shoot better!?”


Yes, it’s a killer snowman. It’s two films about a killer snowman. Shot in 1993-94 but not completed until 96 and then released in 97, Jack Frost was intended to have a $30m budget and Renny Harlin in the director’s chair.

Whatever stopped that happening is a mystery, but the final product is a trite but sometimes fairly amusing horror comedy slasher, one of the last before Scream came and changed everything.

Mad serial killer Jack Frost (MacDonald) is being driven across Colorado on route to his execution when the prison transport collides with a truck carrying some weird acid, during a snowstorm. Poor Jack is melted by the chemical, which stores his DNA in the snow, turning him into an abominable snowman who feels fit to take revenge on the smalltown sheriff who caught him. Oh look, said town is located right where the accident happened!

Jack can turn to water and morph under doors n’ stuff, and uses a variety of comical methods to off the locals, including decapitation-by-sled, axe handle down the throat, and an icicle in the head. The Sheriff (Allport) and pals take on Frost with an army of hairdryers in an effort to melt him.

Fun once, but prep your eyes to roll at the relentless assault of lame one-liners. And still better than the Michael Keaton film of the same name that came out in 1998.

*

jack frost 2 revenge of the mutant killer snowman 2000JACK FROST 2: REVENGE OF THE MUTANT KILLER SNOWMAN

1 Stars  2000/15/93m

“He’s icin’ …and slicin’!”

Director/Writer: Michael Cooney / Cast: Chris Allport, Eileen Seeley, Chip Heller, Marsha Clark, Scott MacDonald, David Allen Brooks, Ray Cooney, Tai Bennett, Sean Patrick Murphy.

Body Count: 12

Laughter Lines:”I now pronounce you… totally fucking dead.”


Looking as if it was made on a tenth of the budget of the first, Jack is resurrected as the snowman when scientists spill coffee on his corpse!? He tracks arch nemesis Sam Tiler and wife to a Bahamian island, where it all goes a bit I Still Know What You Did Last Summer with Gremlins-style offspring snowballs thrown in.

Barely a drop of blood and the removal of the brief nudity could probably see the rating dropped to a PG with ease; the gags don’t even hit that so-bad-they’re-good low hanging branch; and the sub-one-dimensional characters are just annoying.

This is one franchise that needed to be microwaved.

Blurbs-of-interest: Chris Allport was in Savage Weekend; Eileen Seeley was in The Baby Doll Murders; Shannon Elizabeth was in Scary Movie; Rob LaBelle was in Wes Craven’s New Nightmare; Stephen Mendel was in Stepfather III.

 

Goin’ to the chapel and we’re gonna get murdered

harper's island

HARPER’S ISLAND

3.5 Stars  2009/502m

“13 weeks. 25 suspects. 1 killer.”

Creator: Ari Schlossberg / Cast: Elaine Cassidy, Christopher Gorham, Katie Cassidy, C.J. Thomason, Matt Barr, Brandon J. McLaren, Cameron Richardson, Adam Campbell, Jim Beaver, Claudette Mink, Gina Holden, Amber Borycki, Dean Chekvala, Ali Liebert, Beverley Elliott, Cassandra Sawtell, Chris Gauthier, David Lewis, Ben Cotton, Richard Burgi, Callum Keith Rennie.

Body Count: 31

Laughter Lines: “Of all the weddings I’ve been to, this one ranks… near the bottom.”


The first (?) attempt at a serialised slasher format for TV, Harper’s Island was a mercifully one-off 13-episode murder mystery, all wrapped up with a bow so there was no need for for a second series to try and scrape together enough remnants to build something new out of.

Rich girl Trish Wellington is marrying her working class beau Henry Dunn on the quaint off-Washington fishing community of Harper’s Island, where he used to vacation as a kid, and the home of his best friend forever Abby (Elaine Cassidy), until psycho killer John Wakefield murdered several people there, including her mom. This marks her first time back there in some while, which brings up complications with her Sheriff dad, and on-off boyfriend Jimmy.

harper's island 2009 elaine cassidy christopher gorham

No sooner does the boat set sail for the island – literally – a body count starts to build, with Uncle Marty tied to the propeller under the hull, fresh for decapitation as soon as the yacht powers up. From there on out, it’s pretty much a murder or two per episode, as bridesmaids, groomsmen, and poor islanders begin falling victim to a savage mystery killer, who burns, machetes, harpoons, and drops various things on them.

I was lucky to be watching this as it broadcast along with some workmates and we theorized endlessly about who it might be and why… Henry’s disturbed brother who may or may not have left a stag’s head in the bath of the happy couple’s bungalow? A guy who ‘accidentally’ shoots himself – too easy? The brides less-than-happy-about-it parents? The disgruntled fisherman? The psychic who sees bad things for Abby? The requisite creepy child, Madison, whose ‘secret special friend’ tells her things (“I’m not going to get to be a flower girl, Abby”)? Or the British guy – always a good bet?

harper's island 2009

As episodes stack up the presence of a killer is thankfully detected before too many excuses of the “she had to go back to Seattle”-ilk are wheeled out. There’s time for a couple of small-ish subplots: Henry and his buddies find a boat containing a dead body (actually Trish’s ex, who her father offered money to come and disrupt proceedings) and a bag with $250,000 in it. Then Trish and her dad are accosted by a rabid dog whilst out for a cycle in the woods, we learn that her stepmother and brother-in-law were involved in some skeezy affair. Everyone’s a damn suspect!

Initially, the wedding party doesn’t think it relates to them, then the locals think it does and assume they’re safe, but it soon becomes apparent the killer isn’t particularly bothered about who he kills.

harper's island 2009 cameron richardson callum keith rennie

The last few episodes are pumped with some filler as it struggles to suspend the disbelief until we meet our fiend. There’s been mucho looking into the past and questioning if Abby is John Wakefield’s daughter as everything seems pointed at her, as is the standard procedure in these things. I didn’t guess who it was, which was refreshing, but the motivation is a little far-fetched once processed, in a kind of Why go to all this trouble? way, but who are we to question the wisdom of slasher wackadoos.

Harper’s Island can freely boast some high-end production gloss (though sometimes undermined by the amusing episode names like ‘Whap’, ‘Thwack’ and ‘Gurgle’), from a collection of “oh, him!” actors we’ve seen in other things, who are more than capable of breathing some angles into their likely-doomed characters (Cal and Chloe were a fan favourite), to that appealing north-western aesthetic of waterfalls and greenery, that gives the forest scenes a you-might-die-here aura. Too many scenes in the same guesthouse tire somewhat, but as characters explore the area, we get to see more of what the island has to offer.

harper's island 2009 brandon jay mclaren matt barr

And unlike some of the series’ that have followed, without the transparent hankering for a second season, they weren’t afraid to kill off the cast, resulting in some sad moments where characters we grew to love are brutally done away with, something Scream Queens could’ve learned from. Oh wait, all of the characters in that were shit, so nobody would’ve cared either way.

Blurbs-of-interest: Katie Cassidy was also in remakes of Black Christmas, When a Stranger Calls, and A Nightmare on Elm Street; Richard Burgi was in Friday the 13th (2009); Brandon Jay McLaren was also in Tucker and Dale vs Evil, Scar, and season 1 of Slasher; Claudette Mink was in Children of the Corn: Revelation and Return to Cabin by the Lake; Ben Cotton was in ScarThe Tooth Fairy, and Stan Helsing.

Guess Who

Some slasher movies go the Michael Myers route of the audience knowing who the killer is from the off, others opt for a classic cloak and dagger whodunit mystery. Sometimes, these are dead easy to suss out (*cough* Prom Night *cough*), sometimes friends or reviews inadvertently blah (cheers, Ian, for clueing me in on who was the Parka loon from Urban Legend), and sometimes they try to fool us.

Obvious spoilers follow…

All-American Murder (1991)

Downgrade student Charlie Schlatter sees his uptown girlfriend burned alive and becomes the main suspect in a series of murders around campus. But who is doing it? In a twist I never saw coming, it is the ‘dead’ girlfriend, who burned up some poor other girl in order to operate off-radar. Even Christopher Walken didn’t figure that one out.

Difficulty of mystery: 88%

*

D-Tox (1999)

christopher fulford d-tox 2001

Who is killing off the traumatised cops in a remote wilderness rehab center? Will it be the token British guy? Why yes, it will.

Difficulty of mystery: 7% – if there’s a British character, it’ll be the British character.

*

Deadly Blessing (1981)

Sharon Stone and the girl who played Patti Simcox in Grease go to visit their recently widowed gal-pal at her farm on the borders of a sub-Amish community, where somebody is killing off the locals. Is it The Incubus that the Hittite community accuse widow lady of being? Why no, it’s the boy-raised-as-a-girl from the farm next door. Didn’t see that coming.

Difficulty of mystery: 74%

*

Death Bell (2008)

This Korean flick uses the supposition that, as an Asian horror movie, it’ll be the ghost of some long-haired girl killing off students at an academic sit-in for the top performing kids of a Seoul high school. Grades are everything, so it could be anyone.

The Ace here is not who the killer is, but who it’s been all along, which comes out of left field but is awesome nonetheless.

Difficulty of mystery: 89%

*

Fatal Games (1983)

fatal games 1983 sally kirkland

There aren’t a whole lotta seeds planted for you to guess who the mystery javelin-wielding killer after youthful athletes is, but at the same time given that top-billed Sally Kirkland doesn’t have a whole lot of meat to her role, it becomes kinda obvious near the end that she’s going to get to ‘flex some acting muscle’ at some point.

This was actually lost on me though, because I had no idea what she looked like when I first saw it and thought the killer was going to be the lesbian swim coach.

Difficulty of mystery: 53%

*

Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning (1985)

friday the 13th part v a new beginning 1985 dick wieand

I’d not seen The Final Chapter at the point I slotted this VHS into the machine so assumed it was just going to be a standard Jason venture. BUT NO. There is a mystery killer pretending to be Jason. Who is it? Lordy, they could not make it more obvious if they tried. Still, I was all “WTF is going on??” when this random dude was lying dead on the ground. It’s probably why I don’t hate the movie though.

Difficulty of mystery: 2%

*

Girls Nite Out (1982)

There are so many viable suspects here that the killer, when identified, is pretty out of the blue, but given the big traumatic-past-event story, looking for a character the right age to be involved narrows the field significantly (see also: The Prowler), so it should be no surprise. That the film ends as soon as the fiend is revealed is lame though.

Difficulty of mystery: 66%

*

Happy Death Day (2017)

happy death day 2017

Who is killing Tree over and over and over and over as she’s stuck in a time loop? Only time will tell. And tell again. Actually, it’s fairly obvious given that the film almost deliberately chooses to focus away from the character, the same method used in Broadchurch and I figured that shit out!

Difficulty of mystery: 57%

*

Harper’s Island (2009)

Thirteen episodes sees a wedding party and a few locals burned, skewered, propellered, and crushed to death – but who is behind it all? I had a few guesses throughout, especially the guy who ‘died’ in a random accident rather than a homicide. But it wasn’t him. It was the groom, hidden by a series of deliberate misdirections.

Difficulty of mystery: 91%

*

House of Death (1981)

Less an unmasking than a roulette wheel spin that lands on a random guy, who has no concrete motive provided in the matter of seconds during which we see his face, a flashback that tells us nothing, and then he’s dead.

Difficulty of mystery: Void.

*

I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)

Like the way Mrs Voorhees shows up for the first time at the end of Friday the 13th and just is the killer, Ben Willis doesn’t put in an appearance (unmasked anyway) before Julie figures out he’s the killer, so he never really appeared on the line-up of suspects beforehand.

Difficulty of mystery: 49%

*

The Initiation (1983)

the initiation 1983 daphne zuniga

Daphne Zuniga is a college girl with no memory of anything before age nine who begins experiencing weird occurrences in the run up to her final initiation into the Delta Rho Chi sorority. It’s likely to be the mystery individual who has broken out of an institute. But who is it? WHOOOOO?

The film toys with a lot of Freudian blah, Daphne’s little trances when she looks in a mirror, and ultimately we find out if her EVIL TWIN SISTER, who intends to kill her and take over her life!

Difficulty of mystery: 78%

*

Intruder (1988)

A review I read of Intruder stated that the killer was Jennifer’s ex-boyfriend and saw the film early enough in my genre interest that I didn’t figure it was all a ruse.

Difficulty of mystery: 59%

*

Lovers Lane (1999)

lovers lane 1999 sarah lancaster

The local teens are being hunted by a hooded, hook-handed killer in this Scream / Last Summer cash-in, which tells us it’s the recently escaped guy who killed the final girl’s mom and the final boy’s dad thirteen years earlier, only for it to be a father-daughter killing team instead, using his escape as the perfect patsy for their own revenge for, it seems, a bad break-up.

Difficulty of mystery: 55%

*

Mischief Night (2014)

A babysitter is tormented by a masked killer who is about to stab her and then… stops. He can’t do it, she’s different. They bond. They screw. What the fuck is going on? Is this even a slasher film??

Turns out the handful of victims we attributed to the intruder were in fact the babysitter’s kills, all to get the attention of some guy. She’s a regular bunny boiler. I totally did not see this coming.

Difficulty of mystery: 70%

*

My Bloody Valentine (1981)

my bloody valentine 1981 neil affleck

All write-ups of My Bloody Valentine I scoured before seeing it just went with the escaped-lunatic-returns-to-town explanation, so I thought we were dealing with Harry Warden from the off and was confused when TJ pulls off the miner’s mask and it’s… Axel!?

Difficulty of mystery: 62%

*

The Pool (2001)

There’s little mystery to this cross-European effort shot in Prague with teens from an international high school celebrating their finals by partying after hours at a water park, where a skull-masked dude with a machete chops, skewers, and – in the most memorable scene – sticks his blade through the bottom of a waterslide.

With American, German, Czech, Australian, and British characters in the roster, who do you think it’s going to be? Yes, the British guy. Again.

Difficulty of mystery: 12%

*

The Prowler (1981)

A teen couple are slain after their graduation dance in 1945. The dance is banned forever. Well, 35 years. Come 1980 the nasty soldier-of-doom is back with various sharp things to kill anew.

Seeing as there are only two characters old enough to have been of age at the time of the first killings, it’s really no surprise when the Sheriff is unmasked by the boring final girl at the end.

Difficulty of mystery: 19%

*

Psycho II (1983)

Is Norman Bates up to his old tricks after finally being released from the asylum? Motel managers disappear, sexy teens are attacked by a woman in a long dress with a big knife, Lila Crane is making trouble…

But it turns out the kind little ol’ lady from the diner is the one doing it, convinced she’s Norman’s real mother and defending him from all those intent on making his return to society miserable. Her motive is all undone come Psycho III though, so she wasted everyone’s time.

Difficulty of mystery: 85%

*

The Scream series (1997-2011)

scream killers

I fell for Billy’s little act and never considered a second killer in the first one; In Scream 2 I figured out Mickey quite easily but had ignored Debbie entirely – which is weird as everyone else I’ve ever chatted to about it guessed her and not Mickey; Scream 3 was ruined by a book about the series I flicked through shortly before its UK release; Everyone was supposing Jill was behind the mask in 4 but it passed me by.

Difficulty of mystery: 73%

*

Slaughter Studios (2002)

This so-so budget affair is elevated by some creatively gruesome deaths and the gag that the homeless guy a group of amateur filmmakers scare away when they break into a soon-to-be razed movie studio is the one who knocks them off!

Difficulty of mystery: 96%

*

The Town That Dreaded Sundown (2014)

the town that dreaded sundown 2014 spencer treat clark joshua leonard

Ryan Murphy-produced sort-of sequel, sort-of remake to the 1976 dramatization of the unsolved Texarkana killings of 1946 is a clever concept for the most part. When I recently re-watched it, I’d forgotten who the killer even was, and surprised (again) that the first victim/final girl’s boyfriend wasn’t dead at all, and that he’d faked it all to pretty much move away. Like, rent a U-Haul, dude. There’s another killer too.

Difficulty of mystery: 67%

*

Urban Legends: Final Cut (2000)

urban legends final cut 2000 hart bochner

There are so many suspects in Final Cut that the revelation that Hart Bochner’s Professor is the killer kinda just results in an “Oh, OK, fine,” response, because they’ve left so many potential red herrings alive for the climax that the huge twist promised by the producers way back when it was announced probably just meant “we’ve got 9 possible killers – no one will ever guess!”

Difficulty of mystery: 59%

*

For the record, the academic book Games of Terror gave away the killers in Friday the 13thProm NightHappy Birthday to MeGraduation Day, and the ‘revelations’ in Hell Night and Terror Train (the latter would’ve probably fooled me though). A friend of mine inadvertently gave away whodunit in Urban Legend as well (but that was quite obvious, right?)

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